Everyone has 24 hours in a day, so why are some people more productive than others? The answer lies in what we choose to do with the time we have.
The phrase most of us use when talking about prioritizing our schedule is “time management,” and although I won’t belabor the point, a more accurate phrase would be, “action management.” That’s because everyone gets 24 hours, and what we’re managing is our actions, not our time. That said, because time management is the more common phrase, let’s stick with that.
Lots of companies sell time management systems, but anymore, I caution people to be careful when choosing one. A system that works well for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.
Years ago, I used to present Stephen Covey’s time management techniques in my team-building workshops. Yet, despite Covey’s method being heralded as a premier approach for optimal productivity, too many people were telling me they would never use his approach. After a few years of getting feedback like that, it eventually hit me: Time management is like a Rorsharch Ink Blot test. Every person views it differently.
And so, I changed the way I conduct my workshops. Now, instead of laying out the “best” time management formulas, I present several dozen tips that people use for working more effectively and efficiently, and have people choose the five tips they believe work best for them. Then, I divide people into groups to discuss the pros and cons of the various suggestions. This provides them with an opportunity to re-evaluate and rethink their choices. Still, in the end, they need to identify five techniques they believe work best for them.
Then, comes my next question: “How many of the five are you doing?” Rare is the person who is doing any of the five they chose. A few in each class are already doing one of their chosen five, but extremely rare is the person who is doing two or more of the five.
If people aren’t doing any, my recommendation is always to start slow. Don’t jump into the deep end of the time management pool, choose just one or two techniques to get started. If people try starting all five right away, it’s a recipe for failure. Good progress can be made by implementing just one or two of the techniques.
Let me also suggest that an accountability partner is tremendously helpful for staying with your chosen technique(s). This doesn’t have to be a formal relationship. A friend, co-worker or even a spouse will do.
Techniques helpful for everyone
Despite me saying that your most effective time management techniques are unique to you, over the years I’ve found a few are helpful for just about everybody. The following are some tips many of my clients find useful. In keeping with the ink blot theory, you may or may not choose to incorporate them. However, I urge you to consider them before writing them off.
First up is planning. Probably the most effective action one can take to increase productivity is practicing weekly planning accompanied by daily adapting. Some people like planning on Sunday afternoon for the upcoming week. Others like to plan on Monday morning, while still others prefer Friday afternoon. Whatever time works best for you, the idea is to spend at least 10 or 15 minutes identifying the high priority tasks or projects due in the upcoming week and plugging those activities into your calendar.
The purpose of weekly planning is to schedule your priorities. The number of urgent fires that flare up throughout the week can be greatly reduced if we schedule our priorities instead of merely prioritizing our schedule.
The second half of the phrase I mentioned is “daily adapting.” There’s a useful military truism that applies here, which is, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” This aligns with what President Dwight Eisenhower, former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, once said: “Plans are useless, but planning is essential.” The idea is that once the rubber meets the road, whatever plans we created will not go as planned. But the mere fact that we thought things through in a planning process enables our minds to deal better with the tasks at hand, and we can adapt easier as we press forward to making things happen.
The email time vacuum
Computer terminals are funny things. Too many people believe that if they’re at a computer with a mouse in hand, they’re working. However, at least one study found that people waste, on average, one hour each day while at their computer.
In talking with clients about this, I’ve discovered that two of the biggest time wasters have to do with email, and they exist at opposite ends of a spectrum.
The first problem is people spending too much time polishing an email. This is when people read and re-read emails, editing them to perfection before clicking the “send” button. The overwhelming majority of email is about receiving information or requesting information. If the basic questions are addressed, which are who, what, where, when, why and how, then the email is probably good enough. Click send and move on to the next task.
I know a woman who sometimes spent several hours belaboring every word of an email before sending it, and her productivity suffered as a result. Make sure the appropriate basic information is included and click send.
The second problem is found at the opposite end of the spectrum, and that’s having to request more information, or respond to requests for more information, because it wasn’t originally sent. Again, this time waster is resolved if people ensure the who, what, where, when, why and how questions are addressed as needed when sending communications.
Why not identify one thing you can do better to improve your time management, and strive to make it a habit? Chances are your productivity will kick up a notch, and that helps your self-esteem as well as your value to your organization.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.